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Store’s Closure Highlights Food Desert Problem

Groups seek relief after Duquesne’s only supermarket closes

By Jason A. Mignanelli
The Tube City Almanac
November 15, 2020
Posted in: Duquesne News

The closure of Duquesne’s only supermarket highlights the larger problems, caused by poverty, that plague residents of the Mon Valley, social justice advocates said on Saturday.

During a meeting outside the recently closed Save-a-Lot store on Duquesne Boulevard, advocates said the loss of the supermarket is having a severe impact on city residents who don’t have cars and must rely on public transit.

About 65 to 70 people gathered, with organizers repeatedly reminding those in attendance to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Krystle Knight, an organizer with Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center, said despite all of the hype around the recent presidential election, it will produce relatively little day-to-day change for Duquesne residents.

What is democracy “to the poor and dispossessed ... when they have no real say when it comes to healthcare, living wages, affordable housing, when people don’t have freedom from criminalization, deportation, discrimination and mass incarceration,” Knight said.

The Trump administration didn’t create poverty, Knight said, and a Biden administration “in-and-of-itself alone does not guarantee change unless they truly start thinking about financing the poor instead of a war economy.

“We’re trying to uplift the voices of the poor and dispossessed,” Knight said. “We know that poverty and its woes and its ills have always been a problem.”

In addition to the Thomas Merton Center, a number of other organizations were present at the rally as well. One of those was Christ Soul Saving Station Church in Duquesne.

“We are very concerned about the recent closing of the grocery store,” said Bishop David Queen, senior pastor. “I used to see many people in wheelchairs and with disabilities, this was the only place they could shop close to their homes.”

Another organizer, Pastor Eric Ewell of Divine Restoration Church of God in Christ, said the store attributed its closing to a number of factors, including the population of Duquesne being too small to sustain it.

“The real problem is the numbers,” Ewell said. “They say that it takes about 10,000 residents to support a grocery store and we only have about 5,000 here now.”

The Save-a-Lot’s closing means the immediate loss of eight or nine jobs, plus a diminished quality of life, he said.

“It also prevents people from wanting to move here,” Ewell said.

Representatives from Poor People First, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Put People First PA!, Just Harvest, Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Take Action Mon Valley all spoke to the crowd as well.

Many of the organizations noted that the problem extends to other Mon-Yough area communities that have become “food deserts”—neighborhoods where residents do not have access to fresh, affordable food.

Ewell said Duquesne residents would like to develop a cooperative, or co-op, grocery store, “where the community members would pay into ownership.”

People in attendance broke into applause when Jona Reyes, executive director of Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Braddock, talked about efforts in that borough to develop a collaborative food distribution system.

“I never realized just how little access we really have to good affordable food,” Reyes said.

Jason A. Mignanelli is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh’s North Hills and a student at Duquesne University. He may be reached at mignanellij@duq.edu.

Originally published November 15, 2020.

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